I believe in public transportation. It’s good for you—saves gasoline, prevents wear and tear on your car, and gives you a safe place to talk on your cell phone while on the road.
A few months ago, Paul van Heden, marketing coordinator for Asheville’s transportation department, asked if I’d ride the bus for a day—an entire day—with my kids, to prove that a typical mom can accomplish her daily errands on Asheville’s public transit system. I enthusiastically accepted Paul’s challenge.
Then I failed. Yes, public transport is good for you, but it’s just not always good for me.
I blame the kids for my failure (hmmm, that could set up an interesting pattern). When I was child-free, I lived in cities where I didn’t even own a car. I took public transport or walked wherever I needed to go. And I loved it. These were big cities (London, Boston) that, in addition to buses, offered subway systems that truly do get passengers around more quickly than any on-road option. When I’ve hopped public transit by myself, the experience has been downright pleasurable—I’ve probably read about 50 books on subway trains, so far.
In Asheville, with the only option being buses and my having to drag along the kidlings, the experience became something else altogether.
First off, it was 90 degrees. After the three of us walked the half-mile to the bus stop, then stood in the sun next to Merrimon Avenue while car exhaust choked our thirst-swollen throats, we were all grumpy.
Finally, the bus appeared (no, it wasn’t late—we were early—novice error). Luckily, it was cool on the bus, but after about five minutes, my kids started picking on each other. Trying to deal with fighting kids in public is a whole other column I’ll have to get my head around some time. In this case, I forced myself between them on the bus seat, hissing at them to be quiet. They calmed down. For a few minutes. Then they announced that they were bored. You see, they used to think riding the bus was a great adventure—when they were 2 or 3. Now that they ride a school bus five days a week, the novelty’s worn off.
Finally we arrived downtown. But my boy had figured out that the trip took us twice as long on the bus as it does in the car. I explained that frequent stops and circuitous routes through college campuses are part of the public transportation deal. On the bright side, I noted, we didn’t have to waste time searching for parking downtown. He wasn’t convinced.
The same day, I rode the bus alone to the gym. That experience worked well. I wasn’t too early, I stood well back from the heat and fumes of the busy road until the bus arrived, and I read a book until happily jumping off the bus downtown.
Otherwise, the kids and I spent the remainder of the day at home. Forget the damn mommy errands via public transit, I thought.
In the past, Enviro-spouse and I have taken the bus to events downtown—using public transit to and from Asheville’s Brewgrass Festival is a no-brainer. Despite the time we missed the last bus and had to catch a ride with a pizza delivery guy, it’s been great. Of course, we do live close to a consistent bus route, although timing is still crucial, because the bus only passes by once an hour.
Bus-riding makes good economic sense, especially now. According to Paul, given current gas prices, the average American pays 20 cents a mile for gas. That’s $1 to travel 5 miles. One-way on the bus with free transfers costs $1. Children 5 and under ride free with an adult. So you can travel a whole lot farther than 5 miles on the bus for $1.
Go for it—answer the challenge yourself. If you have young kids who love the idea of riding a bus, and you own a foldable stroller that you can load on and off the bus, I think you’ll probably have a better experience with your kids than I did.
After my experiment, I’ll try to figure out ways to ride the bus more often. And I’ll get my kids on the bus again. Once the weather turns cooler. Next time, I’ll bring books for them too. Or candy bribes.